Being able to predict the future was one of the greatest evolutionary advantages that humans had. Discerning the pattern of animal migrations, for example, or where a predator was likely to be lurking was very useful indeed. Equally valuable was to be able to guess the thoughts and moods of the people you lived with. Was Groog – the big guy who was prone to violence – in a good mood today? Does Alllalllea feel warm thoughts for me or will she scream if I put my hands on her? All valuable stuff – especially in the days when language was still rudimentary.
Of course, we still carry these evolutionary tools with us – even though they aren’t as useful as they once were or as necessary. After all why guess what someone is feeling or thinking when you can simply ask them? Why indeed?
Of course, most of us do these predictions without thinking about them too hard. It often comes down to what we are thinking or feeling. Some people, for example, might be called down to the boss’s office and go full of excitement, fully expecting to be given a choice assignment or maybe a promotion. They may have no reason to think that – indeed the evidence might be they are a lousy employee. But why rain on their parade? They will find out soon enough.
Others, of course, will take a completely different tack. They will assume they have done something wrong – that the boss is going to haul them on the carpet or maybe even fire them. This despite the fact they have been consistently shown in (apparently too) subtle ways that they are a good employee.
My wife and I occasionally get into these little projection wars – which fortunately almost always ends with one of us laughing and saying – you’re right. I guess you know me better than I know myself.
One of the interesting things about this is that women are accused of doing it more than men. It might seem logical enough – women have often depended on being able to read the moods and intentions of the men around them. Men have been rewarded for being taciturn and besides, sadly, are sometimes dangerous and it behooves people to know when they might explode.
However, men are equally guilty in this regard. Men’s behavior, perhaps – though the evidence is not entirely certain – less linguistically focused spend a lot of time trying to figure out how other people are thinking – sometimes women but more often other men. Figuring out what can be said and done will determine whether you will be accepted, whether you will gain status or lose it, whether you will be bullied for deviating from group thinks.
Projection used to be a useful tool in the struggle for survival – one of several we used to predict the future. But now, more often than not, projecting our fears and doubts on others leads to trouble – not only at the personal level but on the world stage. There we sometimes fall into the trap of projecting one of our inner demons on our opponent rather than thinking of them as a human being with legitimate concerns, fears and needs of their own.
Maybe we need to stop silently assuming what others think, feel or want and start using our words. That’s what they’re there for.
But that’s ten minutes.